The Best Free or Cheap Summer Activities for Kids in and Around LA

May 16, 2018

Keep Your Kids Busy in and Around LA

The kids are excited to be home -- and away from school -- for the 10 weeks or so of summer recess. You? Maybe not so much. For a start, there's the challenge of keeping them occupied and entertained, and refereeing the inevitable squabbles.

What you need is a plan for activities to do during summer vacation. A plan that will enable them to have lots of fun and excitement, occupy them in useful pursuits -- and allow you the occasional reprieve from parental duties.

Fortunately, here in Southern California, there's a wealth of summer activities to choose from, many of them free.

Short on ideas? Here are some to get your plan started.

Fun and Games at Home

For the younger ones: Turn a simple paddling pool into a water bomb base station. Buy a dozen sponges at your local dollar store, cut them into strips and then put a tight rubber band around groups of half a dozen. Toss them in the pool and wait for the action to start. (Note: Never leave young children to play unsupervised near water)

Scavenger hunt. Who said eggs were just for Easter? Let the kids do the decorating. Or choose other items that you can hide around the yard. Then start the hunt. Kids love this kind of stuff.

Other fun activities for kids at home include:

  • Script and shoot a home movie -- you can also move "on location" if you're adventurous enough. If that's too complicated, just get them to make funny home videos.
  • Craft activities like finger painting, baking, kite-making (and flying), mud-pie "pottery", origami, flower pressing and mask-making. How about making wind-chimes from shells collected at the beach? (More wind chimes ideas here: )Or building a bird feeder -- then stock it to watch local bird life?
  • Backyard camping.
  • TV watching. Don’t just abandon your children to "the box". Look through program schedules for items of educational interest.
  • Host a sleepover or sprinkler party. Hopefully, other parents will reciprocate too, giving you a welcome break!
  • Building and playing on a backyard obstacle course.
  • Making music. Buy a couple of cheap pre-owned musical instruments and see the fun that kids can make. Plus, you may ignite a musical passion for their future.
  • Playing board games. Tear them away from their games consoles and introduce them to some of the great board games that are around these days. You may have to buy a couple but you can also pick them up real cheap on craigslist or at a charity store.
  • A clear-out of books, games and toys that could be donated to a local charitable cause -- an important lesson in community responsibilities for your children.

Out and About

With a climate like ours, outdoor summer activities abound.

Beaches and pools : We have some of the best beaches in the nation -- they're free -- right here in Southern California, and some fantastic water parks, splash parks and pools. Don’t forget the waterproof sun tan lotion.

Museums, galleries and exhibitions . Youngsters may protest that museum and art galleries are boring, but not if you give them a challenge to find particular exhibits, or if you go to centers that cater especially for children and teens like Kidspace Children's Museum out in Pasadena. And don’t forget the excitement of a day visit to the zoo or one of the more-than-a-dozen aquariums we have here.

Fruit picking. Somehow eating fruit you picked yourself tastes better and it brings out the competitive spirit in youngsters. There are lots of pick-your-own farms and fields around LA and beyond. Do a Google search or check out this list at TimeOut magazine:

Local parks and Ponds. They're great venues for picnics. Plus, even something as simple as playing frisbee or feeding ducks can keep young people entertained for quite a while. Cycle rides are also a popular pursuit. Or how about a bug hunt? Or simply a great afternoon of fishing?

Learn about gardening: Visit a local garden center and help the children select items they can go home and plant in the yard. They'll be checking out their "babies" every day afterwards.

Also look out in your neighborhood for:

  • Outdoor movie nights, concerts and fireworks shows
  • Parades
  • Farmers' markets
  • Talent competitions
  • Working farms that are open to the public
  • Petting zoos
  • Circuses and carnivals
  • Local fairs (LA County Fair doesn’t start till Aug 31)
  • Other community activities your child or teen can get involved with
  • Art walks for older kids

Let Others Take the Strain

Summer camps and sports camps are a natural starting point in your quest to find supervised pursuits that will give you a break.

But there are often shorter-term, free events that can give you a break. For example, your local library will almost certainly have a summer schedule of readings, competitions, movies and other types of entertainment. Even if you have to attend yourself, someone else will be doing all the work! Or maybe you can escape to a nearby coffee shop.

Start your search at the Los Angeles Public Library's website ( or the County of Los Angeles Public Library's list of activities for children and teens at: .

Other places where you may find short-term supervised activities for children and teens include your local YMCA, swimming lessons at a local pool and Red Cross first aid lessons.

Where to Get More Information

You can often find information on activities in your area on library and other community noticeboards.

Online, you can run a Google search or scour social networking sites. If you use the photo sharing site Pinterest, you'll find hundreds of entertaining ideas here: .

TimeOut's LA magazine also has a great list of SoCal activities with contact details. Find it here: .


The bottom line is that if you invest some time right now to plan a summer season of activities for your children, it will repay you by easing some of the parental stress normally associated with this time of the year. Hey, you might even enjoy it!